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Life After Graduation: Teaching Abroad in South Korea For a Year

Life After Graduation

I'm sure you've already heard from your college professors, your school alumni, or any working professional: getting a college degree is only half the battle. If you aren’t one of those unicorns who has a job lined up for you upon graduation, it can be extremely hard for you to snag that first job. The job market was saturated with around 3.8 million graduates in 2020. Not only do you have to compete with recent graduates but you’re also up against professionals who already have experience. According to the University of Washington, it takes the average college student 3 to 6 months to find a job in their field post-graduation. For some people, it could even take years. But there is a path that a lot of graduates are now taking to ease a few of their struggles. It’s an opportunity where they can travel the world, gain marketable job skills, make new friends, and earn more money than they would at their part-time jobs. Many college graduates have been leaving the country to teach English abroad.

The Benefits of Teaching Abroad

Teaching abroad has become immensely popular with college graduates for many reasons. A lot of countries are eager to hire newly graduated Native-English speakers to teach their students the most important language in the world. They’re so eager, in fact, that some are willing to provide you with free housing, flight reimbursements, health insurance, meals, work visas, and salaries up to $40,000 US dollars a year.

One Graduate Decides to Teach Abroad

Anitta Machanickal is one recent graduate who decided to take this route and head to South Korea to teach English. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduation,” Anitta explained. “I tried applying to jobs in my field, but it’s so hard. You apply to entry-level jobs but you need to have a year of experience and you can’t get the experience without having a job.”

As time passed, she found herself experiencing post-graduate depression. She had an unpaid internship right after graduation and a month later found part-time work in an after-school program. But she wasn’t able to save and she was still living at home. So, after doing some research, she decided that teaching abroad in South Korea would be the best choice for her.

“My school in Duchon provides me with my own one-bedroom apartment,” Anitta informed. “I don’t pay rent. I just pay for utilities. I have a decent salary. I have health insurance-which I didn’t have back at home-and it has been amazing. I want to take advantage of all the benefits that I have right now.”

With her teaching job, she’s also able to save up money. Having a salary of zero in the U.S. allows you to defer your government student loan payments. This can ease a lot of financial burdens on students who are currently struggling to make their loan payments each month. With all of the benefits, it’s clear to see why someone would choose to teach abroad. And the requirements to teach abroad aren’t as strict as you would think.

Criteria for Teaching English Abroad in South Korea (TALK Korea)

  1. Be a citizen of one of the 7 native English speaking countries: USA, Canada, UK, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand

  2. Have completed at least 2 years of higher education. (Bachelor’s Degree candidates or Associate Degree holders)

  3. Have a clean criminal record

Anitta is teaching through the TALK program which has fewer requirements. This can change depending on the type of program you’re in. It can also depend on the country. In countries like Spain, Costa Rica, and Vietnam, you aren’t even required to have a college experience at all. In Thailand, you don't need to be a Native-English Speaker as long as you're fluent. Just make sure you do some research about the country and program you want to do beforehand.

Teacher Training is Provided

When Anitta arrived, she was placed in an orientation program where they essentially taught her how to teach. They showed her how to create lesson plans, manage classroom behavior, and meet her educational goals.

A lesson on days of the week that Anitta prepared for her students
A lesson that Anitta prepared on days of the week

“We had a two-week orientation,” Anitta said. “We were given lectures where they described what it’s like to Teach English as a Foreign Language. We were supposed to have a few cultural excursions too but they were canceled due to Covid-19. A few of the cultural classes were brought to us, though. Then we were given a final test, the practicum, where we created a mock lesson plan and taught for twenty minutes.”

So, when she finally made it to the classroom, she didn't feel too nervous at the new challenge.

"My co-teacher is always in the room with me.” Anitta said. In Korea, English Teachers will usually have a Korean co-teacher to support them throughout the lesson. “We have a trade-off system where they teach the first half of the class and I teach the second half.”

During after school lessons, however, Anitta is completely on her own.

Exploring South Korea

South Korea is brimming with temples, mountains, beaches, parks, palaces, street markets, and a colorful nightlife. Although much of it has been closed down due to Covid-19, Anitta tries her best to explore what Korea has to offer. For vacation, she visited the city of Gyeongju where she toured the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. However, in her opinion, the best part is walking around her neighborhood in Hongcheon and exploring on her own. She likes the freedom of being able to do what she wants when she wants. She also likes to form relationships with the local Korean people.

“For the most part it’s been markets and parks and forming simple connections with Koreans I see regularly,” she said. “There’s the hotteok guy who knows who I am and is always super friendly because he sees me so regularly.”

The Challenges With Teaching English as a Foreign Language

The library in Anitta's school in Duchon

Teaching abroad will not be without its own struggles though. Anitta explained that sometimes she has mixed classes where students have varying degrees of English fluency. So, she has to come up with activities that are suitable for different levels. She also has to deal with classroom dynamics. In her 2nd-grade class, there are only four students and two of them do not get along. This makes it tricky to coordinate group activities and makes it rather difficult to keep the class moving forward. The language barrier between her and her students also requires patience on both ends.

“If one side gets a bit more frustrated, it can completely end an activity way too early," she explained. Although these obstacles are a struggle to deal with, they are preparing her well for her career in the future.

Acquiring New Skills

Teaching English to a classroom full of young foreign language students will help you to build certain characteristics. Here are just a few of the professional and interpersonal skills you develop while teaching abroad:

  1. Problem-solving Skills

  2. Organizational Skills

  3. Leadership Skills

  4. Adaptability

  5. Relationship Building Skills

  6. Ability to take the Initiative

  7. Cross-Cultural Sensitivity (which is so important in our globalizing world)

You can put any one of these skills on a resume or CV and really impress your future employers!

The Future is Bright

Though she still isn't 100 percent sure what she wants to do in her field, Anitta believes that she is now better prepared to land a job when she returns. Many college graduates who have followed the same path, have gone on to find wonderful careers after their time abroad. Whatever Anitta decides to do, it’s clear that this year abroad has prepared her to take on anything!



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